How an MES Optimizes Industrial Processes

If your team is looking to improve an industrial or manufacturing process, the complexity can often be overwhelming. Along with identifying what needs to be improved, there’s also the nuanced task of figuring out what pain points and bottlenecks you should address first.

In situations like these, even highly skilled teams can find themselves paralyzed in their attempts to improve productivity or efficiency. Thankfully, Management Execution Systems (MES) are helping organizations address this challenge by enhancing their processes.

In the first article in this in-depth series, we explained what an MES is and where it fits into the industrial software ecosystem. This article will cover how an MES can boost productivity and unlock new operational efficiencies for manufacturers. 

What’s the Difference Between OEE and SPC?

To recap, an MES analyzes and interprets data from various sources across the manufacturing lifecycle. While Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software optimizes the performance of machines on an assembly line, MES is intended to offer engineers and managers a complete lifecycle overview of industrial processes. MES delivers insights and suggestions from every production phase, including procurement, transport, labor, maintenance, and more.

As we covered in the last article, MES delivers two primary applications: measuring overall equipment effectiveness and generating statistical process controls.

  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) measures how effectively a manufacturing operation is utilized relative to its potential capacity. An MES can generate OEE metrics by automatically gathering data from sources like employee timesheets, machinery sensors, and warehouse logbooks to show how well an organization uses its plant, personnel, property, and equipment.
  • Statistical process controls (SPCs) are not metrics like an OEE figure. Instead, SPCs are suggestions and prescriptions that an MES generates — and sometimes even implements automatically — to relieve bottlenecks and inefficiencies in a production process.

SPC is prescriptive, it provides suggestions and rules on how to adjust manufacturing processes to improve product quality and efficiency. Operating efficiency is directly tied to industrial processes. Optimization requires you to incorporate your MES’s metrics and prescriptions into those processes to improve productivity and mitigate risks associated with less-than-ideal workflows or neglect of equipment health and maintenance. OEE is descriptive, it describes what has been going on in the manufacturing processes. Keep reading to learn how to do just that.

How Do You Use OEEs and SPCs?

Consider the fictional case of the Acme Cup Company. Acme is the cup manufacturer of choice for several major retailers and restaurant chains but has struggled to meet demand over the past several months. To address this, Acme’s management implements an MES.

First, Acme looks at the MES to tell them their OEE — how effectively they use their current factory. The MES gathers data for several weeks of normal operations and finds that Acme is severely underutilizing its resources. The OEE analysis identifies several significant problems: efficiency consistently drops around shift changes, quality control failures are leading to time and product being wasted on re-fulfilling orders, and flawed inventory management is resulting in manufacturing lines habitually ordering too little plastic resin to turn into cups.

With this OEE analysis, Acme’s management uses the MES to create SPC models to remedy the identified issues. Using the data obtained for the OEE analysis over the past several weeks, the MES generates a set of SPCs to significantly improve productivity and throughput. These include increasing the amount of plastic resin delivered to production lines, increasing staff allocated to quality control processes, and more gradual shift changeovers to maintain consistent throughput.

Why Use an MES?

In many cases, including our above example with Acme Cups, your team may already know the nature of the problem in their workplace. So what is it that an MES adds to process improvements, compared to feedback from staff or an in-person review? 

There are three reasons an MES is more effective than an in-person and manual process review. For one, it sources a broad base of quantitative data for analyses and suggestions. Secondly, it provides a systematic framework for categorizing problems. Lastly, it triages and prioritizes what should be addressed first.

The Advantage of Quantitative Data

Unlike anecdotes from team members, an MES can draw exclusively from quantitative data sources in providing both OEE metrics and suggestions in the form of SPCs. Not only does an MES have access to real-time, continuously logged information, but it also makes such data available across multiple parts of the production process.

An MES can provide precise numerical values on a variety of issues, such as:

  • How utilized a given machine is during a shift
  • Time taken to move inputs from the warehouse to the assembly line
  • Throughput of end-products over time
  • Where workers spend their time during shifts

An MES’s continuous data collection can also capture the effect of environmental cycles or conditions on industrial processes. For instance, an MES can provide insight into how temperature, seasons, and weather impact a manufacturing operation’s performance.

A Systematic Framework

With quantitative data, an MES can offer something that would be challenging for people on the ground to provide — an “eagle’s eye” view of an industrial process.

An MES allows teams to break down complex problems into smaller individual challenges that are easier to address. It provides a cross-department perspective on bottlenecks and inefficiencies in a manufacturing lifecycle. In the case of our Acme Cups example, by illustrating the different effects of issues like shift changes or input shortages, an MES provides a means to categorize these problems. At the same time, it also gives teams the data-backed insights needed to help them prioritize what process enhancements should be implemented first.

MES for Triaging Improvements

An MES offers the chance to rapidly identify and execute the changes that will most profoundly impact a business’s bottom line. By breaking down efficiencies into categories and grounding them in data, the SPCs provided by an MES can thus be triaged by teams to reflect their value-add and cost to implement. As a result, an MES can mean more effective use of budgets and less time spent on initiatives with a lower potential for ROI.

Furthermore, an MES makes it easier to convince organizational stakeholders to adopt new efficiencies by furnishing a robust quantitative and empirical basis for proposed upgrades and enhancements. As a result, the chance of improvement initiatives being approved and succeeding increases with MES. 

Leveraging MES Data for Your Operations

So far, we’ve covered the broad strokes of what an MES can do for manufacturing processes and what it can deliver for teams. But what sort of data does an MES leverage, and how can you ensure that your MES solution provides valuable insights for your team? To find out more, stay tuned for the next article in our series, where we delve into these questions.

If you’re interested in implementing an MES solution to achieve the benefits we’ve laid out in this article, get in touch with ICA Engineering. You can contact us today to discuss exactly how an MES solution can fit into your manufacturing process.

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